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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog

When Does An Employee’s Viewing Or Displaying Pornography At Work Contribute To A Hostile Work Environment?

Keyboard that reads porn

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), sexual harassment that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile work environment is unlawful.  Under long standing law, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination which violates Title VII.  As explained by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in O’Rourke v. City of Providence, 235 F.3d 713 (1st Cir. 2001), the “very fact that the discriminatory conduct was so severe or pervasive that it created a work environment abusive to employees because of their . . . gender . . . offends Title VII’s broad rule of workplace equality.”

Having litigated sexual harassment cases for almost twenty years, our Marion County, Florida sexual harassment lawyers have learned that in determining whether sexual harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create an abusive work environment, courts look to the totality of the circumstances constituting the victim’s work environment.  In order for the viewing or displaying of pornography in the workplace to be included within the totality of the circumstances constituting the victim’s work environment and contribute the creation of a hostile work environment, courts have ruled that a victim must establish that the viewing or displaying of pornography occurred in a way that was intended to target the victim, to target the victim as a woman, or to discriminate against women.  Put differently, the victim must show that the harasser viewed or displayed pornography in the workplace in a manner that was intended to harass the victim or to discriminate against the victim on the basis of gender. 

University Professor’s Alleged Pornography Habit

The decision by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106 (2d Cir. 2007) is instructive in showing how a victim can demonstrate that the viewing or displaying of pornography in the workplace was discriminatory in nature and, thus, was contributed to the creation of a hostile work environment.  In that case, Eleanora Patane (Patane) brought a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim pursuant to Title VII against her employer, Fordham University (Fordham).  Patane worked as an executive secretary in Fordham’s Classics Department.  Patane contended that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor, a man named Clark, who was a professor in the Classics Department.

Patane’s hostile work environment harassment claim was based on allegations that Clark viewed pornography in the workplace.  Patane asserted that Clark spent one to two hours every day viewing “hard core pornographic” videotapes in his office.  Patane maintained that she was aware of Clark’s pornography habit because the flickering from the television screen was visible through the glass partition of his office and because she once saw numerous pornographic videotapes scattered on the floor of his office when she knocked on the door to announce a visitor. 

Patane further alleged that Clark’s viewing of pornography in the workplace was specifically directed at her.  On one occasion, she discovered “hard core pornographic websites” on her computer.  Patane maintained that Clark used her computer to view these sites during his weekend trips to the office.  After discovering the sites, Patane obtained a password to protect her computer and had all of the offensive images deleted.  Patane also asserted that Clark regularly had videotapes “concerning masochism and sadism” shipped to the office which, as his secretary, she was responsible for opening and delivering to his mailbox. 

Ultimately, Patane showed one of the videotapes delivered to Clark’s office to the Director of the Equity and Equal Opportunity Department for Fordham.  The Director took no remedial action other than reporting Patane’s complaint to the Associate Vice-President of Academic Affairs.  For years, Patane continued to report Clark’s behavior to the Director and Associate Vice-President, including showing them the collection of thirty-six pornographic videotapes that Clark kept in his office.

Display Of Pornography Was Discriminatory In Nature

Fordham filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Patane’s hostile work environment sexual harassment claim.  In granting the motion, the trial court rubber-stamped Fordham’s argument that Patane had not shown that Clark’s harassing conduct was aimed at her because of her gender.  On appeal, the Second Circuit reversed the trial court’s dismissal and reinstated Patane’s hostile work environment sexual harassment claim.

In reversing the trial court, the Second Circuit found that “some” of Clark’s alleged conduct, such as the hard core pornographic websites on Patane’s computer and the pornographic mailings that Clerk knew Patane was responsible for handling, “was undoubtedly aimed at her” because she is a woman.  Moreover, the appellate court pointed out, a sexual harassment victim “need only allege that she suffered a hostile work environment because of her gender, not that all of the offensive conduct was specifically aimed at her.”  Patane’s allegations, the appellate court determined, were “sufficient to allow a jury to find much of Clark’s complained of conduct particularly offensive to women and intended to provoke [Patane’s] reaction as a woman.”  In other words, the Second Circuit reasoned, Clark’s viewing of pornography in the workplace occurred because of Patane’s gender and contributed to a hostile work environment because it intimidated women in the workplace and targeted Patane as a woman.

Free Consultation With Ocala Sexual Harassment Lawyers   

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have almost twenty years of experience representing employees who have been subjected to hostile work environment sexual harassment.  If you have been the victim of sexual harassment or have questions about the viewing or displaying of pornography in the workplace, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Marion County, Florida hostile work environment sexual harassment attorneys.  Our employee rights law firm takes sexual harassment cases on a contingency fee basis.  This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover. 

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